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Ukraine preparing for Russian attack on Kiev

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Ukraine preparing for Russian attack on Kiev

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine prepared for an all-out attack on its capital on Friday, as forces blew up a bridge to slow Russian troops’ advance, sparking street fighting in a northern district of the city, And the country’s leaders warned residents that Russia “wants to bring the capital to its knees.”

Steps to defend Kiev came on a second day of Russian military incursions, as bursts of small arms fire and at least five explosions could be heard in the city centre, hours after hitting a missile barrage overnight and one The rocket crashed. in a residential building.

The fighting took place when Western governments attacked Russian President Vladimir V. Including Putin imposed new sanctions, tens of thousands of refugees fled the country, and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, appeared in a video warning that the Russian military plans to make an all-out attack and “decide Ukraine’s fate now.” being done.”

“This night, the enemy will use all the forces available to break our resistance – treacherous, vicious, inhumane,” Mr Zelensky said in a speech posted online after midnight Saturday, according to a translation provided by his office. said in.

As troops in Kiev set up firing points on bridges over the Dnieper River and checkpoints on highways in the city, Mr. Zelensky warned that Russian “sabotage groups” had entered the city with the aim of “destroying the head of state”. .

Reports from the Ukrainian military and the United States and its allies indicated that Ukrainian forces were fighting fiercely, slowing the Russian advance. Ukrainian citizens were also volunteering to defend the country.

The Ukrainian army reported losses as it seemed to retreat from the border areas. But it also reported successes; In Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, Ukrainians destroyed several military carriers; The military said it shot down a Russian plane; And the presidential office said it had recaptured an airfield outside Kiev, Hostomel airport, which Russian commandos seized the day before.

A US Defense Department official said that the Russians “were not moving on Kiev as fast as they had anticipated,” and that, crucially, “Ukrainian command and control remains intact” to protect the country’s defense. to direct.

But officials warned that as of Friday morning, Russia had sent only 30 percent of the 150,000 to 190,000 troops on the border to Ukraine, so Moscow could step up its attack at any time.

The fighting continued as Russia sent mixed signals about whether it was ready to enter into discussions that would end hostilities.

Earlier on Friday, a Kremlin spokesman said Mr Putin was ready to send representatives to Belarus for talks with the Ukrainian delegation. But Mr Putin later urged Ukrainian troops to lay down their weapons and described Mr Zelensky’s government as “a band of narcissists and neo-Nazis” – downplaying any suggestion that he should be involved in peace talks. Were planning to include Mr. Zelensky. Moscow on Friday also vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the attack.

At the end of Friday, Russia claimed that Ukraine had rejected urgent talks – a characterization that contrasted with a report by Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, who said that Mr Zelensky had spoken to Israel’s prime minister, Naftali. Bennett to mediate negotiations in Jerusalem. Mr Bennett’s office confirmed that a phone call had taken place, but declined to comment on its contents.

Yevgen Kornichuk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel, said of the Israelis, “They said no.” “They’re trying to figure out where they are in this chess game.”

Western countries proceeded to punish Russia economically, isolate it on the world stage, and strengthen security in Eastern Europe.

In a rare emergency summit on Friday, NATO agreed to make “significant additional defensive deployments of forces” to the coalition’s eastern members, it said in a statement.

NATO active elements of the Rapid Response Force, which could in theory call up to 40,000 troops, and the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force”, which is essentially a land brigade of about 5,000 soldiers, said the coalition’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, At a press conference after the summit. The army is not going to Ukraine but to strengthen the Eastern European countries that are part of NATO.

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EU foreign ministers on Friday approved a second set of sanctions that Mr Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov’s assets and impose financial, technical, industrial, trade and travel-related sanctions and sanctions. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden joined the European Union in directly imposing sanctions on Putin, Lavrov and members of the Russian national security team.

The status of Mr Putin’s financial holdings is shrouded in mystery, and his money is not believed to be in the United States.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said it would close its Moscow office and end Russia’s application for membership of the group, which represents 38 of the world’s most influential economies.

As the fighting spread, thousands of Ukrainian refugees fled the country in response to what the United Nations described as a growing humanitarian crisis. Poland’s border service said 29,000 people had arrived from Ukraine on Thursday, the first day of the war. More fled across Ukraine’s western border on Friday. Others emigrated to Romania, according to UN estimates, with more than 50,000 left in total.

The majority of those crossing into Poland at Medyka, one of the few border checkpoints with Ukraine that allows pedestrians as well as vehicles, were women and children. Men aged 18 to 60 have been barred from leaving Ukraine by a government order aimed at keeping potential fighters in the country.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s top humanitarian and emergency coordinator, said on Friday that the agency was setting aside $20 million from an emergency fund to help with the crisis in Ukraine.

Mr Griffiths said that in just two days, the conflict has moved “hundreds of thousands of people”. Even before the invasion, about 3 million people in the eastern region of the Donbass depended on basic aid, and with the war spreading across the country, older people, children and people with disabilities would need immediate assistance, he said.

“Displacement in and out of the country is going to be a huge issue,” Mr Griffiths said. “We have yet to see where this operation is going.”

Although hostilities continued throughout Ukraine, after two days of fighting the primary focus was on Kiev. A report released by the country’s defense ministry identified Russia’s progress from three directions – north, east and south – as it sought to tighten the screws around the capital.

To the north, Ukrainian forces blew up a bridge over the Teterev River, about 30 miles from Kiev, to prevent a column of tanks from crossing, the Defense Ministry said on Friday.

But an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, Mikhail Podolik, told reporters at a briefing on Friday that the Russian military’s plan was not focused entirely on Kiev. The goal, he said, was to encircle the capital and major cities in Ukraine’s south and east, including Kharkiv, where fighting continued for a second day on Friday.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry stated that Russian forces were attacking with long-range missiles and aircraft, and that Russian air command and control aircraft were flying over Belarusian airspace and Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Was.

Late on Friday, five explosions were heard in Kiev within about five minutes, and Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said they had come from a thermal power plant in the city’s northeast.

To the south, Russian troops had advanced along a canal from the Dnieper River to a strategically important dam controlling the flow of water to the Crimean peninsula, the ministry statement said.

Russia’s military confirmed on Friday that it had captured the irradiated Chernobyl exclusion zone and said radiation levels had not risen after the site changed hands.

Kiev, a city of 2.8 million people that was brimming with activity just days ago, was a terrifying, deserted tableau of empty streets and closed shops on Friday. Air raid sirens sounded approximately every half hour.

“Right now, we are hearing explosions and gunfire in some districts,” Mr Klitschko said in a statement. He said the army had tried to block Russian units from entering the capital. “Unfortunately, some of these deviant groups have already broken up in Kiev,” he said. “The enemy wants to bring the capital to its knees.”

Hundreds of people, along with their children and pets, flocked to the edge of the platform at the 285-feet underground Universitet Metro station. The station was re-engineered to serve as a bomb shelter in Soviet times, and when sirens sounded at 4 a.m. on Friday, 21-year-old Sonya Veres woke her friend Olenna and grabbed her cat.

He had been taking shelter in the metro station since then, when the cat was trembling, he was sitting under the blanket.

“I never thought we could be attacked here,” Ms Veres said. “And now look at us, sleeping on the floor” in a subway.

Children were crying and many people were checking their cell phones for updates on the news. Everyone was wearing winter coats. It was cold and a cold gust of wind trembled every time a subway car – also full of people – trembled.

Ms Veres said she was now worried about leaving the city by car as Russian forces had partially surrounded it, with fighting raging on the north and west ends of the city.

In the southeastern neighborhood of Pozniacki, a 20-foot pit stood between a Soviet-era apartment block and a modest playground from the same era.

The crater was strewn with debris—a beanbag chair, an iron, a teddy bear, a used vacuum bag—remnants of a life that was normal until a few days ago.

The crater was caused by an explosion when a Russian missile hit a residential building, Mr Klitschko said.

Ivan Yeshenko looked at the pit with amazement and anger. He said he could not sleep and had seen the explosion.

“No one can live here anymore,” he lamented. Mr Yeshenko, 63, who was dressed in military-style clothing and leaned on a stick, said he had already fought the Russians and would defend the city to his death.

“They said they were not going to target civilians,” he said, referring to the Russians. “so much for that!”

Yuri Shigayev, 63, who lived on the second floor of the building until Friday morning, said he was ready to join other residents who took up arms to defend Kiev. In a sign of a potentially chaotic fight, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Facebook that Kiev residents should “prepare Molotov cocktails” to prevent “occupiers”.

On Friday evening, Mr Zelensky appeared in his video, along with other government officials, with his office in the background, suggesting that he remain in Kiev. “We are all here,” he said in the video, “to defend our freedom, our state.”

Valerie Hopkins Reported from Kiev, Ukraine; Andrew E. Creme from Medica, Poland; And Michael Levenson from New York. Michael Schwartz Contributed reporting from Kharkiv, Ukraine.

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